OBJECTIVES To assess the quality of anaesthetic services as defined in the six anaesthetic clinical indicators against preset standards and to identify risk factors for adverse events in the recovery room. DESIGN Prospective study. SETTING All public hospitals providing anaesthetic care in Hong Kong. PATIENTS Eighteen thousand, seven hundred and fifty-nine patients receiving elective or emergency anaesthesia administered by anaesthetists from June 1998 to July 1998. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES Patient demographics, American Society of Anesthesiologists status, category and nature of operation, presence of preoperative anaesthetic visit in ward, type of anaesthesia, reasons for a recovery room stay of more than a 2-hour duration, intubation to relieve respiratory distress in the recovery room, presence of hypothermia in the recovery room for operations lasting more than 2 hours, and dental or ocular injuries attributable to anaesthesia. RESULTS There are two major findings from this study. Firstly, a high incidence of hypothermia in the recovery room was reported. Secondly, a greater risk of prolonged stay in the recovery room was identified for patients older than 65 years, major operations, and anaesthetic techniques using combined general and regional anaesthesia. CONCLUSION The six anaesthetic clinical indicators reflected the provision of anaesthetic care in public hospitals in Hong Kong. Good compliance to the preset standard of the anaesthetic clinical indicators was achieved during the study period.